Friday, 17 December 2010

Christmas With Jet

What better way to celebrate the Christmas season than with a heart warming and rather rambling discussion about ace 70's band Jet?
(It should be said before I start that I have total faith in the internet and that this blog entry will do its job. I am sending this missive through the twisty corridors of time so that someone at CBS in 1975 will find it on their desk one morning and read it and act sharp. "Dear CBS chappy, please release 'Fax N Info' by Jet as a single." There. Simple.)

I'd say it's unlikely you have an inkling as to who this band are - Martin Gordon (late of Sparks), Andy Ellison and Chris Townson (late of John's Children - vehicle for Bolan's first pop adventures) Davy O'List of Roxy Music (Apparently) and The Nice (Da da da dada America). In 1974 / 75 they ended up dumped in the gutter by their respective Glam Rock brothers (and Eno) and got together and made an album under the name 'Jet'. The album is excellent. It is ridiculous, cerebral, funny, rocking, and most of all, highly melodic. All the fat has been cut out and what is left is a muscular 40 minute nugget of Roy Thomas Baker (yes, Queen's producer) carved virtuoso pop. It has just been reissued on RPM as a 2 disc set including an hour of unreleased goodies.

So why am I writing about it? I found this album some 10 years ago as I consumed myself in all things Sparks (pre their resurgence in the 2000's) and this was one of those 'must have' rare gems. I looked everywhere for it. And then suddenly it got reissued by Radiant Future and I bought it up, complete with its companion disc of out takes.

I'll be honest, this little article might turn out to be a thinly disguised love letter to Martin Gordon, the bassist and songwriter in Jet. Unlike so many other pieces you'll find on line not because he is the last remaining non-Mael from the team that made 1974's astonishing 'Kimono My House', nor because he was in the not quite all conquering proto punks Radio Stars, nor because he did some keyboarding with pre Britpop drunkard-era Blur or even with Kylie. But because I think he might be the only surviving link to ... I don't know what. Was he one of Gilbert and Sullivan? Was he in the front row as 'Iolanthe' was debuted at the Savoy? Was he there defending the whole tone scale to the 1600's Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins? I like to think so. I also like to think he is one of the last true geniuses of the Glam Rock era we have left. This probably won't make him too happy, but sod it. He is. And continues to be with his ongoing solo albums.

BBC DJ Mark Lamarr played some Silvery to Sparks once on his Radio 2 show and he said they were absolutely astonished by not only the singing, but also the madness of the arrangements. That's good enough for me. But it's Martin Gordon I wanted to impress. We had a brief professional liaisons about 3 years ago when he mixed a couple of our tracks for a single. It didn't work out but I think those mixes are stunning. Mad, uncompromising and sound. But I think we all agreed it might be a bit much for a brand new band whose main pigeon hole was Martin Gordon-era Sparks to release something with his name attached. We discussed music and both agreed that we're all pretty much buggered. I liked him a lot. Here we are pictured outside the Blow Up office in London.

Anyway. The Jet album. It's amazing. I like the contemporary Sparks album 'Indiscreet', with all its little twists and fiddles, but its not really the album you'd lend to a mate other than to say "how's this for an over long folly?" (I should know, I've made 2 already). You'd play the Jet album in your friend's car and they'd keep having to pull over to laugh or keep asking to hear that bit again. And then they'd surprise you buy getting their own copy the next day. They'd do well to get this new 2 disc version (RPM Retro D882), flick through the Dave Thompson sleeve notes (and buy his books on Sparks and The Sweet), get some background from Martin Gordon's comprehensive website, skip to 'Whangdepootenawah', 'Cover Girl', 'Our Boys' and the aforementioned 'Fax N Info' and then puzzle over why Jet are not mentioned regularly in the same breath as Abba (yep), The Sweet (uh huh) and even Queen (you betcha). Yes, I like 'My River' but it shouldn't have been their first single - hence my hopes of this time travelling blog. 'It Would Be Good' is the acceptable face of Bovver Boogie (I don't know what this is). Listen to how the bass line changes on the outro to 'Fax N Info'. That's walking home from the pub on Christmas Eve summed up in a repeating four note phrase. How was selling this band to the public cocked up for everyone? Actually, best steer clear of those sleeve notes - you'll only get cross.

That's it really. There will always be a place at my Christmas table for Martin Gordon. Right next to the space I keep for John Deacon and Steve Priest.

Seriously. Every year.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Silvery London Part 1

I got a few nice messages from people who had a browse through the bits and bobs on here (well, the more recent posts from when I decided to focus on SILVERY related musings) asking for more titbits particularly related to the stories behind the songs. So leading on from the in depth 'Quaire Fellow' piece from a few weeks ago here are some notes for an unfinished piece I was writing about 'Silvery London' - fancying my chances making a little tourist pamphlet to circulate. In no particular order then, the first chunk of 'Silvery London':

The cover art of 'The Naked & The Dead' features the statue of Queen Alexandra Of Denmark on Marlborough Road (just off The Mall) designed by Alfred Gilbert to commemorate her founding of the Queen Alexandra's Nursing Corp during the Boer War.

St Pancras Graveyard - A prime piece of Early Silvery - it was the setting of the night time scenes in the much celebrated (IE rough as fuck) 2006 'Devil In The Detail' video (shot after a performance at Koko just around the corner) and is reputedly the subject of Thomas Hardy's poem 'The Levelled Churchyard', recited nearly inaudibly on 'Sparks & Fire' on the second album.

'Revolving Sleepy Signs' was partly inspired by an 1854 illustration by Mackenzie Walcott of his encounter with a meteorite at Westminster Abbey. Indeed, the drawing itself was used as the cover of an early demo (usually referred to as the 'London Meteor' demo) featuring the track.

Lost rivers of the London (the Westbourne, Effra, Tyburn and Fleet) are all mentioned in the closing song of the first album 'Animals Are Vanishing', an imaginary account of Sir Jonathan Hollingshead's very real subterranean adventures.

Piccadilly, formerly Portugal Street, is mentioned in 'That Which Is / That Which Is Not', as are the plans of Lancelot 'Capability' Brown who is responsible for some of London's finer green corners, including Kew and Holland Park.

Early Silvery rehearsals read as a 'where's where' of closed London practise spaces. The first faltering steps were taken at The Joint off Old Street (fitting then that the first album was recorded years later just across the roundabout there) and then moved north to the much missed (by the rats and mould as much by the bands) Backstreet on Holloway Road just under the arches. Both are celebrated in the nonsense spouted on the outro of 'Star Of The Sea' on 'Thunderer & Excelsior'.

The photograph of the legend 'Erected By Parliament' in the middle pages of the Railway Architecture booklet is from Alfred Frank Hardiman's statue of British Expeditionary Force Commander Earl Haig on Whitehall.

Shoreditch High Street is featured in the package of the second album 'Railway Architecture' within a picture of the old railway depot sign at number 233.

The mysterious nose on Great Windmill Street is referenced in the sleeve notes as the inspiration behind 'Two Halves Of The Same Boy'. Indeed, James appeared on BBC Radio London discussing the nose with Robert Elms.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Album 3

Just as the second album ('Railway Architecture' on Blow Up Records) has been released, we thought we'd try a little experiment especially for Silvery enthusiasts of the future. Here's a track listing (as rough as you like) how I envisage SILVERY album number 3 to look. Bearing in mind not a note as been recorded yet and the songs existing in various states of disrepair on various formats (several are up on blocks contained within a few of the dozens of Silvery demo minidiscs dotted around, some have been stripped down to their chassis on my 4-track tape recording machine, others are rusting and covered in ivy on tape cassettes in a shoebox under my bed) but each is a winner and in contention when I looked at the vast catalogue of unheard titles. Who knows, maybe none of them will make it onto the third album, maybe a handful will be submitted for use by Pixie Lott and N-Dubz. Maybe names will change as rebuilding continues. We just don't know. But at the moment, this is what 'Life & Non Life' looks like:

We Are Sound (brisk)
Ahoy Hoy (brisk & droning)
Uncatchables (lively)
Simple Harmonic Motion (lively)
S.S. Watertown (heavy plod)
The Crompton (brisk)
The Growing Up Song (mournful)
The Round Tail (sweeping)
Building A Garden For A Blind man's Child (sweeping)
Life (lively)
Non-Life (non-lively)
Seasick (sweeping)
Heave / Ho (fast)
The Britpop Wars (clumsy)
People Aren't Evil (cute)

Friday, 9 July 2010

The Quaire Fellow

'The Quaire Fellow' by Silvery (from the album 'Railway Architecture', released in 2010 on Blow Up Records)
I thought it necessary to make a little note about what the 'Quaire Fellow' is. There seems to be no reference to it with this spelling on line, indeed the only time I've seen this name was in 'A London Compendium' by Ed Glinert - a great starting point for investigating the capital quirks and burps.

What happened, right, was this. In the 1960's, during construction work on the Victoria Line at Vauxhall (named after the Hall of Falkes de Breauté, the head of King John's mercenaries), workmen unwittingly dug into one of London's many lost Plague Pits - vast subterrenean pockets of corpses of the victims of the Black Death. They witnessed much odd phenomena as they cut through the stale human jam, including a visit by an 8 foot tall ghostly spectre, which they named 'The Quaire Fellow'. Of course, in the Silvery song, the action is not specifically set in the 1960's, rather the ever alluded to murky Victorian smog at the birth of the age of railways as I always figured 'Quaire' to be old Irish navvie slang for queer - as in 'odd'. Some research reveals that the nearest related words to it appear to be 'quare', which is Irish slang meaning 'very', and 'quaire wan', meaning 'wife' - both making little sense in this context, although there is Brendan Behan's unrelated play entitled 'The Quare Fellow'. The plot thickens!

I am proud to say I have a demo recorded by an early line up of the band made in the flats that back onto the railway at Vauxhall. - a wonderful session called 'From The Albert Embankment'. I like to think you'll have to wait for the 10th Anniversary 'Railway Architecture' 2 CD reissue to hear that one.

Whilst we're talking about Vauxhall, this is a good place for one of my favorite facts about London. Way back, Vauxhall was the original terminus of the Southern Region before the line was extended into Waterloo. Some representatives from the then fledgling Russian railways came to inspect the line and took the name Vauxhall to literally mean 'railway station'. Hence the Russian word for railway station is 'Vokzal'. Wonderful, isn't it? Needless to say, the times we played in Russia, it's all I'd talk about.

Monday, 26 April 2010

26th April 2000

The Rock Garden, Covent Garden, 26th April 2000. I was the bassist in a band who couldn't decide on a name. The week before this one we'd played our first gig to literally 3 people at the Camden Falcon under the name Aeronaut, and I think this next gig was my turn to name the band. I selected my favorite potential moniker, 'Silvery', and hence today marks 10 years since I first stepped on stage under that name. We'd been rehearsing for a few months - me on bass, Howard on guitar, Murray on drums and Dom on vocals - and were taking our first wobbly steps out onto the stage (kind of a Silvery Erectus - had mastered using tools, now learning to create and travel). I'm not sure 'amateurish' would do it justice, but we were green. Hence playing a dive like that.

London in 2000 was a world away from London 2010, and musically too my band of 2000 was a totally different beast to that which was signed to Blow Up in 2007. I couldn't even tell you what I was into musically at that time, although I think we were trying to be like the Elastica of 'Line Up' (as witnessed on 'Engines') or The Knack ('Hold Me Like Him') but it was fed through a very fey studenty filter thanks to the singing, the spiky musical arrangements taking pride of place to any sense of melody other than the chorus hook. I think we were probably mid-metamorphosis even that early on thanks to the recent arrival of Murray of drums. Although we still very much old 'indie' pop, we mixed it with some more adventurous sounds like the clockwork waltz of 'Single' and even our version of the bog standard live set 'noise' intro had a theremin driving it (bought on a whim from Blue in Islington to impress the girls from Kenickie who were browsing effects pedals - true story). We were literally progressing at every rehearsal (at The Joint, Old Street - don't look for it, it's not there anymore) as shown by the recordings I've kept. As good as we were getting, that turned out to be the last gig by that particular group, sensing that perhaps the singer wasn't quite up to the job.

A year later after some intensive mucking about at Panic in Acton and Backstreet on Holloway Road (don't look for it, it's not there anymore) the three instrumentalists re-emerged (slightly reshuffled) onto the stage at the Kentish Town Bull & Gate with a new set of songs and adding a new bassist. I'd ended up as the singer after some disastrous auditions for a new singer. I had point blank refused to be a singing bassist so I picked up my guitar again for the first time since school. We'd become a good band with quite a muscular take on where we were heading with the first incarnation, even featuring a keyboard on some songs with the very recognisable fairground setting. Confusingly, we decided to stick with the name Silvery. This new line up would, there or thereabouts, last until 2005 when most of the songs that eventually made it onto 'Thunderer & Excelsior' were in place ready to hand the baton on to the steady influx of new chaps who would form the foundations of what was to come.

So I suppose more accurately it will be 15th May 2011 that will really mark the 10th birthday of Silvery as we know it, being the anniversary of that first Bull & Gate gig with me singing. Without rendering this whole exercise redundant I'd go so far as to say modern Silvery 'proper' (Silvery Sapien) didn't really get going until mid 2005, but it's that gig on 26th April 2000 at The Rock Garden, Covent Garden that the name 'Silvery' first appeared on tickets and posters and that's what counts. On the eve of the release of the second album, I look back on those early adventures very fondly. Was it worth it? I don't know. But it was the start of a very complicated family tree of line ups, messing about, long spells dormant and amusing shopping trips - a very interesting thing to do. The only constant tying together a decade of music being me and the name which had just enough kudos to stick.

Setlist: 'Instrument / Theremin', 'Hold Me Like Him', 'Engines', 'Single', 'Lance Bolder', 'New One' AKA 'Neon', 'For My Fall'.

STOP PRESS: I just remembered I wrote a very flowery imaginary review for this gig (who else would write about my music?) but I can't find it. I'll have a look. I have some photos too. But you're not seeing them.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Don't Be Easy, Hot Cat

I've been reading lots of things about homemade compilation tapes, I guess Spotify has rekindled something in the hearts of those of us of such a bent. Everyone of a certain age did it of course and I'm not going to add to the romanticised hindsight of the analogue era. Yes, it was brilliant, yes we all had our own rules and I took it all very seriously (my top tip: start side one and side two first - build them up that way rather than going straight through one and two in order). You'd get lucky and there wouldn't be much of a tape click between songs, one day you could actually fit the whole track list on the original inlay - even occasionally spelling the name of it right on the label. Good days. I made loads and loads - for friends and for myself (I still have most of those) - usually just singles and key album tracks of the day compiled to play in the car (I'd even slave over that to make it perfect) or random collections to flaunt my own identity to whoever would listen. They ended up with names like 'Companion', 'Aeronaut', 'Floatation' and the more literal 'Luverly Choons From Essex Road N1'.

The greatest one I made was called 'Don't Be Easy, Hot Cat' - a very amateurish collection of funny lounge and up-tempo library music for my chums in the Laurent Toure Silky Lash Team to listen to driving to school / back from the pub / on the beach. Unusual in that it was themed and on a 60 minute TDK (a really nice one - selected especially). It was so popular among the chaps that eventually I had to run off about 10 copies and even 'reissued' it on CD with bonus tracks when the technology became available as a special treat on birthdays. These were the days before massive interest in this sort of music - TV themes and loungecore compilations had yet to cash in on the retro Loaded magazine / Italian Job / Ollie Reed / Are You Being Served market and it was quite hard to find, especially in Southampton HMV, still awash with Doop and Reel 2 Real. Hence some tracks were not the ideal versions - The Wedding Present doing 'U.F.O.' rather than the original, and some Walker Brothers, although these all came into their own over time. I was overjoyed that I eventually signed my band to Blow Up Records - the source of many of the trendsetting discs with their 'Exclusive Blend' series (we're talking 1994 - 1996 - very much hand in hand with the 'Southern' end of Britpop). With the help of 'The Sound Gallery' (Volume 1, on the EMI Premiere label) and 'House of Loungecore - The Easy Project (Volume 2, on the Sequel label) and some other stray Corduroy Acid Jazz b-sides the tape took shape effortlessly. With a short sleevenote of the type found in those library albums (Jason King would be turning in his leather jumpsuit) the collection was ready to be rolled out nationwide (in Eastleigh).

Who would have thought that Moog and windwind with double tracked drums would have sounded so contempory? Ok, I'll get nostalgic - John Schroeder's slowie 'Wana Nana Wana Nana' still reminds me of those hot days in Lorette De Mar, Keith Mansfield's timeless 'The Young Scene' of dancing at whatever dive it was played (I think the Club Hawaii stuck on the tape between Abba and The Prodigy a number of times, and maybe in the garden of the disused Hotel Eugenia across the road), the aforementioned 'U.F.O.' acting as get away music more than once, 'The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore' sitting in the glorious Mediterranean sunshine as we were facing the long trip back, 'Make It Easy On Yourself' walking from our bulletproof Daimler to the airport lounge (true story) suited and hatted, Roy Budd's epic 'The Car Chase' of driving into town on warm Saturdays with Little Chip. I even think we once played John Keating's unusual lounge reading of 'Jesus Christ Superstar' during some successful Euro '96 barbecues. Good days.

The arguably stronger but less successful follow up 'The Versatile Cornelius Lechenstein' is still to receive a CD reissue.